On 7th September 2021, I wrote the following post on Facebook:
Bit of an odd request, this, but I’m hoping you might be able to help.
I think I’m autistic. I’ve wondered about it for a while, but I’ve always managed to convince myself it’s something else. I’m now fairly certain it is autism.
One of the main things that caused me to dismiss it after much consideration was the fact that I never scored highly on online tests on the social indicators of autism. But it seems that many women with autism don’t either, and because I was never good at being a typical boy (i.e. I didn’t like football or fighting, or getting my hands dirty), and felt unable to relate to many other boys when younger, this makes sense to me. Basically, I could mask a lot of things by second-guessing, observation of others, and retention of procedures.
I’m 41 and I don’t have the energy to mask in “normal” society anymore. Already, I feel better today because I can finally make sense of why I almost constantly feel so f***king baffled by about 99 percent of what happens in everyday life, and it feels liberating.
However, I would appreciate some input. Please, if you wish, comment underneath if you’ve ever suspected that I might be “on the spectrum”/an “Aspie” and why you thought so. I won’t be offended. It will be nice to know I’m not alone in this assessment of myself: I’ll have some social proof. (Conversely, if you don’t think I’m autistic, you could say so. I don’t mind. Facts are facts, and I can’t be annoyed with someone’s valid and considered observations.)
Reflecting on this now, a little over three months later, I feel a sense of unease at my use of the problematic term “Aspie” (a term that I quickly learned not to use, and I am sure I will explore at some length the reason for this in future posts). But this unease is outweighed by the relief I feel that, since realizing I am autistic, life has improved. It is interesting, too, that I should mention women’s experiences of autism, because that has been a hot topic in the news recently: the TV presenter, Melanie Sykes, has revealed that she is autistic, and so has Christine McGuinness, the reality show star and wife of comedian Paddy McGuinness.
I should also point out that the wording of the post is tentative. It fails to convey the depth of feeling that I experienced when the realization that I am autistic occurred. To describe it in words, this is the best I can manage: a terrifying calm.
The only sensible explanation
Being autistic makes so much sense that now, it amazes me that I did not accept the possibility sooner. There had been a few times in my life when I had thought I was autistic, but managed to convince myself otherwise. However, that is only because I found incorrect information and based my thoughts on that. It is difficult to arrive at a valid conclusion when the information with which you are working is inadequate.
Rejecting autism as the explanation – and with a healthy scepticism of the medical model, fuelled by my recent PGCE studies (during which I became aware of, and interested in, critical theory) as well as a psychology degree from rather longer ago – I considered several possibilities in an attempt to make sense of my life: neuroticism, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. None of these provided an adequate fit, but why would they? After all, the classification of psychiatric illnesses/disorders has long been known to be problematic. Every person is an individual, so each person presents uniquely, and it would be impossible to categorize and analyse each and every behaviour that someone might exhibit unless they were to be put under 24-hour surveillance. Also, there is overlapping of symptoms in different syndromes.
Autism, however, makes perfect sense – and the realization that I was autistic appeared at just the right time. Back in September 2021, I had seemingly exhausted every avenue. Psychodynamic therapy, EMDR, mindfulness and sertraline had all failed to give me the full set of tools required to manage my emotional state. I had some tools, but they were what was left in a “sold as seen” garage sale socket set originally bought from Asda, rather than a brand new one by Bosch or Dremel, with all the bits arranged where they should be. Going a whole day without having a panic attack, a fit of rage, complete emotional numbness, or a bout of uncontrollable crying, was impossible. Outwardly, I appeared functional, but that’s just down to pure luck: I won the intersectionality lottery at birth. When you’re white, vaguely middle-class, reasonably articulate, male, straight, and dressed fairly smartly, people tend not to pick up on things that they might pick up on in other people who, because of the way power is structured in society, suffer horrendous, even fatal, abuse.
Exactly one week after posting on Facebook, I managed to get a telephone consultation with a GP – not my usual one – at the practice at which I am registered. Prior to calling, I set out my thoughts in a Word document. Here is the final paragraph of that 1200-word summary:
In the short term, and possibly longer term, I’d like a stronger anxiolytic and a mood stabilizer – something stronger than sertraline. I also think that I need an autism assessment because a diagnosis would provide the external validation that I need in order to accept myself fully as a human being.
The result of the appointment was the addition of quetiapine to the sertraline that my usual GP had prescribed 11 months previously. The immensely kind and helpful doctor also said that she would refer me for an autism assessment.
As I write this, November 2021 is drawing to a close. On Friday, I completed the first proper stage in the autism assessment, having received a letter from the service to which I have been referred. It was an online questionnaire, with a mixture of closed questions with “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” categories and open-ended questions, for which I wrote responses in considerable detail.
In this blog, I will keep track of my journey through the diagnostic process, as well as my journey of self-discovery as I make sense of life as an autistic adult. I will probably overshare, but I don’t care about that. What I care about is that this might be read by someone else in a similar position, and it might help them. It’s the least I can do.
Thank you for reading.